First Look: Spoon in East Atlanta

“Excuse me while I go to the restroom,” I told Wayne.

“Again?” he replied.

It was my third visit during our meal at Spoon (749 Moreland Ave., 404-624-4713) in East Atlanta. The same people who operate Spoon on Marietta Street on the Westside have opened this Thai restaurant.

My continual visits to the bathroom had nothing to do with the usual reasons. I was already weeping and sneezing 24 hours a day because of pine pollen. But Spoon’s very spicy food had caused my sinuses to evacuate and my eyes to water even more. I had to run to the bathroom repeatedly to blow my nose with the intensity of a trumpet solo.

Honestly, I love hot food and I wince when I hear diners whining to servers that they don’t eat spicy. (“Then why are you here?” would be the appropriate response.) But this Spoon, like the original, challenges my own tolerance. You have three choices — “medium spicy,” “hot” and “Thai hot” — and even the medium is capable of causing your mouth to sizzle.

Of course, the fiery property of the curries is indicative of the restaurant’s authenticity. Most of the Thai food around town is considerably toned down for the American palate. But Chef Aim Suteeluxnaporn isn’t completely tied to classic Thai. Her food also reflects invention in its flavors and presentation — just as the décor of both restaurants avoids ethnic clichés.

The new space in Ormewood Square Shopping Center replaces a Mexican restaurant. It’s sleek and uncluttered, with a comfy bar area where you can eat as well as drink. Well, actually you can’t drink there until June when the restaurant will have its liquor license. Until then, you can bring your own booze.

The menu is the same as at the original Spoon, broken into appetizers, soups, salads, classic curries and stir fries, noodles and specialty dishes. I don’t think you will go wrong with anything here.

My favorite starter is the tofu corn cake. Although the corn didn’t taste fresh during my first visit, it adds enough sweetness to the crumbly cake to avoid being offensive. The tempura calamari was, as always, flawless — crunchy and al dente, never tough. Simple basil rolls display the chef’s talents with classic dishes. They are sliced into bite-sized pieces and served upright with a peanut sauce on the side. Taste one without any sauce and you’ll immediately notice that the rice paper is amazingly tender, almost like good pasta.

Drag the next piece through the sauce … and prepare to flee to the restroom for your own trumpet solo. The peanut sauce is full of thermonuclear siracha. A nearby couple who had already broken a sweat laughed when they saw my apparently conspicuous reaction. I drained my water glass and then drained another.

During my visit with Wayne, we both ordered from the specials menu — two soft-shell crabs for me, and half a roasted duck for him. I recently wondered when soft-shell crabs were going to hit Atlanta, since I believe they are in season.

As the crabs are regularly on the menu at Spoon, I can’t say how fresh these were. Their flavor was subdued, but maybe that was the effect of the dish’s Panang curry. Our server interviewed me at length about the degree of heat I wanted and I think I got “hot,” rather than medium-hot. It was this dish that caused my upper respiratory tract to react. But the intense heat did not keep me from eating every drop of the remarkable, almost floral sauce.

The roasted duck, Wayne’s choice, is the most expensive menu choice here at $26. (The curries and stir fries are all $11, plus a dollar or two for most of the tofu, vegetable or meat additions.) While the duck itself was deliciously crispy and oily, its basil-heavy sauce was not as pleasing to me as the Panang.

My usual favorite Thai classic is green curry with chicken, which I ordered during a solo meal. Typically, a green curry is hotter than a Panang, but I found the reverse to be true here. I guess that had to do with the waiter’s subjective measurement of my tolerance of heat. But the green curry, soupier than the Panang, was among the best I’ve had in our city. I’d say it ties with Little Bangkok’s.

We tried two desserts. The chocolate-caramel mousse with a mercifully musk-free green-tea ice cream has received lots of nominations for “best of” lists in the city. I do like it better than our other choice — spring rolls filled with blueberries, chocolate chips and some kind of creamy cheese. They reminded me of Asian cannolis.

Those of us who live on the east side of town are happy to have Spoon in the neighborhood, but either location is worth a drive from any point in town. Inexpensive and artful, Spoon is a recession-busting gem.

Reflecting on reviewing

If you read our Omnivore blog, you know that I dined at the new Varasano’s Pizzeria last week. I enjoyed the restaurant but, mindful that it had only been open a few days, I noted a few problems. I also commented on the way the hysteria preceding the restaurant’s opening had raised expectations to Olympian scale.

Indeed, at this writing, the post has provoked 59 replies. It’s a textbook example of the way people can infer significance the writer (moi) never intended.

It has long been my opinion that restaurant reviews, even at their most comprehensive, are nonetheless essentially accounts of personal experience — and experience changes. There’s change in the kitchen, change in the diner’s tastes and change in the culture. It’s all about inter-subjectivity.

Gastronomy is also about adventure — pushing against the boundaries of your own taste. It’s really an embodied metaphor of a great way to approach life generally. But you can’t live that way if you take things too seriously — or, perhaps, not seriously enough. Gastronomy is not a religion. It’s an anti-religion at best. Unlike religion, it is always trying to find a new god and new sacraments.

Can we lighten up?

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